STEUBENVILLE - Big Red traveled the early-and-often route Friday to earn a 35-13 victory over Brooke in the seventh Battle of the Bridge at Harding Stadium.
Reno Saccoccia's gridders scored on their first four possessions in moving to 4-0 on the season. Big Red, ranked fourth in the initial Ohio AP Division III poll, now prepares for its Week 5 trip to Stark County and a date with the dreaded Massillon Tigers.
The Bruins, 0-4, will host Wheeling Park at Memorial Stadium next Friday.
AIRBORN — Steubenville Big Red’s Robert Hayden hurdles his way to a touchdown in the first half of Friday’s 34-13 win over Brooke.
"It's been a long five weeks, believe me, for these kids with the four games plus a scrimmage," Saccoccia said. "It feels great to play a good solid game on all three sides, offense, defense and special teams.
"We were able to play a lot of kids and I thought they represented their families, their school and their city well. Now we have to hunker down and get ready to go starting Sunday."
Big Red set the tone for the evening on the first Brooke possession. Thanks to an offside penalty, the Bruins were looking at third and inches from their own 27. Senior nose tackle Manard Reed dropped Brooke's running back for a five yard loss forcing Sean Blumette's club to punt.
Starting at its 30, Steubenville quickly moved 70 yards for the first score. The drive included two key third down conversions. Senior quarterback Corey Stinson found fellow senior Matt Petrella for 11 yards on a third and seven. He then hit senior Evan Westlake for 47 stripes on a third and 16 to keep the march going.
The touchdown came on a one-yard leap by junior Robert Hayden. Senior Luke Smith nailed the conversion try.
A second consecutive three and out by the defense, put Big Red back in business at its own 31. Stinson connected with senior Tajuan Lawson for gains of 28 and 11. Junior Cody Saltsman took a flare pass from Stinson, picked up a key block from Petrella, and sprinted 20 yards for the score. Smith again nailed the kick.
On Big Red's first two possessions, Stinson completed eight passes for 135 yards.
Big Red's third scoring drive started in the waning seconds of the first period. Stinson and Petrella connected for 25 yards before Stinson found Saltsman for 12 more. Junior Michael Jett went over from three yards out but the score was nullified thanks to a Big Red holding penalty. Stinson delivered again on third down, lofting a perfect pass to a wide open Petrella for the third touchdown. Smith's boot made it 21-0.
Brooke's offense finally showed some signs of life after junior Heath Hildreth returned Smith's kick to the Bruin 39. Senior quarterback Alec Buchmelter completed passes to Hildreth, senior Hunter Wallace and junior Nick Destefano, moving the ball deep into Big Red territory.
The Big Red defense stiffened, however. Hard-running freshman Justin Loughrie was nailed behind the line then sophomore Juwan Williams threw Buchmelter for a seven yard loss.
Saccoccia's squad set up shop at its own 22 following the defensive stance. Two plays later, Hayden went right up the gut, traveling 78 yards to pay dirt. Smith was true again and the hosts led 28-0 at the half.
During the initial 24 minutes, Big Red ran 31 plays for 302 yards (Stinson was 11 of 14 for 190). Brooke was held to 73 stripes and punted on four of its five possessions.
Brooke did threaten late in the third quarter, marching from its own 20 to the Big Red 10. That drive ended thanks to a QB sack by sophomore Donte Brown.
Blumette's club was able to finally crack the scoring column early in the final stanza, Buchmelter tossing a nine-yard strike to Wallace. Jake Schwertfeger split the uprights for the extra point.
Buchmelter then capped a 47-yard drive by hitting junior Joe Staffileno for a five-yard touchdown. This time, the kick was blocked.
Big Red's Lawson finished the scoring when he took the ensuing line drive Brooke kickoff and sprinted 80 yards to the end zone.
The winners rolled to 379 yards of offense (170 on the ground and 209 through the air). Stinson definitely recorded his performance to date, completing 13 of 17 attempts for 202 and a couple of scores.
"He did have a good, solid night," Saccoccia said of his quarterback. "But, you're only as good as your offensive and defensive lines, that's just football. Everything else gels off of that."
The Big Red defense held Brooke to 20 rushing yards and recorded four quarterback sacks (Williams getting a pair).
"We did some make some outstanding plays on defense," Saccoccia added. "Our younger kids did a heck of a job in there tonight."
Even in defeat, Blumette walked off Reno Field with some positive thoughts.
"I told our team we're 0-4 and we had two hard-fought losses and two losses that I'd like to go back and change. This was definitely one of the two hard-fought losses. We got down early and third down on defense just killed us," he said.
"We were able to put a few drives together in the second half. We have to establish a running game; we just couldn't handle their pressure. But we had a new attitude tonight and I liked what I saw."
Under pressure most of the night, Buchmelter still was able to put together some respectable numbers. He completed 18 of 30 passes for 198 yards and a pair of scores. Wallace ended with five catches for 54.
"I challenged the kids to step up and they really delivered almost to a man," Blumette continued. "We now have a six-game season and we need to put together a run now. It's a tough road ahead for s, but we're in a much better place than we were last Friday."
Big Red 34, Brooke 13
Brooke 0 0 0 13 - 13
Big Red 14 14 0 6 - 34
BR: Hayden 1 run (Smith kick)
BR: Saltsman 20 pass from Stinson (Smith kick)
BR: Petrella 18 pass from Stinson (Smith kick)
BR: Hayden 78 run (Smith kick)
B: Wallace 9 pass from Buchmelter (Schwertfeger kick)
B: Staffileno 5 pass from Buckmelter (kick blocked)
BR: Lawson 80 yard kick return (run failed)
RUSHING: Big Red 32-170-2 (Stinson 3-(-16); Redman 10-28; Hayden 4-84-2; Jett 3-25; Donte Brown 6-35; McClurg 2-4; Williams 4-8) Brooke 21-20 (Buchmelter 10-(-16); Loughrie 11-41; Staffileno 1-(-5)).
PASSING: Big Red 14-20-209-2 (Stinson 13-17-202-2; Pierro 1-1-7; Agresta 0-2); Brooke 18-30-198-2 (all by Buchmelter).
RECEIVING: Big Red (Petrella 3-54-1; Westlake 2-56; Saltsman 4-46-1; Redman 1-13; Lawson 2-39; Hayden 1-(-3); McClurg 1-3); Brooke (Hildreth 2-3; Cole 3-36; Wallace 5-54-1; Loughrie 1-0; Destefano 4-55; Staffileno 3-46-1).
FIRST DOWNS: Big Red 15; Brooke 13.
PENALTIES-YARDS: Big Red 8-65; Brooke 4-20.
PUNTS: Big Red 2-39; Brooke 4-33.
FUMBLES-LOST: Big Red 1-0; Brooke 0-0